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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment

Susanna and the Elders

Rembrandt van Rijn

Susanna and the Elders - Rembrandt van Rijn

oil on mahogany panel
76.6cm x 92.7 cm
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© Blauel - ARTOTHEK

View this work in the exhibition Bathing

The work

Rembrandt painted his Susanna in 1647, a period when he was using a reduced palette—here browns, ochers and reds. Like in Veronese's painting in the Louvre, the elders are shown imposing themselves on the lady. Curiously, Susanna does not appear panic-stricken. Her hands are joined in a gesture of prayer that looks like she is about to dive in the water. And she is the one looking. She is looking at the viewer, that is Rembrandt himself, perhaps seeking his permission. Unless she has realized that she was being spied on by the viewer, who as a result finds himself in the role of one of the elders. But the elders are fictitious painted figures, colored, ordered matter. Who then is the real voyeur in this story?

The artist

Rembrandt was born in Leiden, the Netherlands, on July 15, 1606, his name—van Rijn—meaning near the Rhine, in reference to his birthplace. Following his apprenticeship, he opened a studio in Leiden, was soon successful and moved to Amsterdam in 1631. Equally well-known as a painter and an engraver, a master of the technique of chiaroscuro, Rembrandt injected new life into the painting of his time (The Night Watch, 1641).

Until his death on October 4, 1669, he painted more than six hundred pictures (richly colored in his youth, dark, sober and intimist in the 1640s and, from the 1650s onwards, livelier and with a subtle chromatic richness), about a hundred self-portraits, and made more than three hundred etchings. However, in spite of his reputation and the vast body of work he produced, the most prominent Dutch painter of the 17th century and one of the greatest painters of all time, having lived a lavish lifestyle, declared himself bankrupt in 1657 and died twelve years later, ruined.